For 25 years, Brian Duncan has been a calm and steady force as executive director at Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services.
On Jan. 25, his co-workers and friends talked about that calmness and his overall presence during a dinner honoring him as he prepares for retirement.
Duncan’s last day is Feb. 1.
Deanne S. Cockerill, Administrative Services Support Supervisor for RRCS said that Duncan’s retirement is bittersweet, as he will truly be missed for his calm, consistent, kind compassion throughout the agency.
“He has done a tremendous amount, not just for this community, but for all five communities we’re engaged in,” Cockerill said. “We’re happy for him, but we are really going to meet his leadership in the agency.”
She recalled his dry humor, where he would be stoic one minute and then be able to lighten the mood with a quip that had the room chuckling.
“He really is one of a kind,” Cockerill said. “It’s not just the construction of the facilities, which are very visible, but the programs he’s built.”
Duncan, who came to Culpeper 25 years ago after serving nine years at Crossroads Community Services in Farmville, said that the time was right to step away.
“It is a good time, the organization is stable, it’s a good senior staff,” Duncan said. “The board has an active search going on. If there is a time to step away, this is a good one. These are good circumstances.”
Having a steady hand and a calm demeanor was essential when dealing with emotional issues like substance abuse, mental health and aging services. Duncan always handled those with the same reverence.
“I think that for us, those issues are always present,” Duncan said. “Even though this current opioid crisis is getting a significant amount of press, for us it’s not new. We’ve recognized the issue of addiction for decades and that helps us remain steady through these things.”
Duncan stressed that the successes of the organization weren’t just his, but that of the entire group. He praised the leadership of senior management and of the work of the staff members who have put in countless hours of improving the five county community that RRCS serves. That being said, what’s the one item that will define his stay as executive director?
“I don’t know if there’s one single item,” Duncan said. “There really are a lot of collective achievements at the agency. Certainly building Boxwood was a great achievement for the board. We just finished a rehab center up in Brandy Station. People tend to think of these brick and mortar projects as big legacy things. I would say it’s really more about the programs that the people offer and the services provided by our staff.”
He said he will miss the staff and their dedication.
“They’re the doers in this whole operation here,” Duncan said. “You miss part of that camaraderie, that common mission. It’s a great organization doing truly great work, I’m privileged to be associated with that.”
Ray Parks, Director, Aging and Transportation Services at RRCS, has worked with Duncan for more than 30 years. He’s been at RRCS with him for 23 years and prior to that worked with him for nine years in Farmville.
“He’s been my mentor,” Parks said. “He’s taught me a lot about leadership and how to supervise people. He’s been a real good role model and a calm, steady presence.”
That calm, steady presence has allowed his staffers to do their job without fear of inconsitencies from the top.
“I think it helps people to be more creative in their work and trust the leadership,” Parks said. “He’s dependable, he’s always there for guidance. We’ll miss him for sure.”
Parks said Duncan was instrumental in helping getting funding for the renovations at the Culpeper Senior Center.
“It was Brian, when we proposed the idea, that really sat everyone down and said to break this down into steps about how we need to go about it,” Parks said. “He provided tremendous relationship. He gave Gladys (Williams, Culpeper Senior Center coordinator) the freedom to go out and be the face of the agency.”
Alan Rasmussen, prevention specialist at RRCS, has worked with Duncan for 15 years.
“When I’ve needed something on the job, some help getting something done he’s been very approachable and supportive,” Rasmussen said. “You can go in and talk to him about issues, he listens and tries to make things happen.”
Kim Beach, a former member of the RRCS board from Madison, remembers how Duncan helped make things happen when Madison lost its mental health services. It was a trying time following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but Duncan handled the situation calmly and with tact.
“He was very receptive,” Beach said. “Brian really had to cope with it because he was stuck between inadequate state funding and the desire of Madison, which did not have a mental health center. “It’s a very demanding job and he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very sharp, he knows about this stuff and he was really a leader of the board. Without him I think I would have been at a loss. He was a consummate professional. He had very calm, steady leadership.”
Robert Legge, current president of the RRCS board, recalled the concern when Duncan first started talking about retirement in Oct. 2016.
“Who could imagine RRCS without Brian Duncan?” Legge said.
As the board searches for a replacement, Legge said they will be under the capable hands of Anna McFalls, who also served as interim director 25 years ago prior to Duncan’s naming as executive director.
Legge recalled a sermon he heard one Christmas morning at St. Stephen’s church in Culpeper, about how even a small calendar in a dark house could help see your the darkness, and even after that candle went out you could still remember where things were to see your way.
“It reminded me even after Brian leaves, just like that extinguished candle, part of him will be with us for years and decades to come,” Legge said. “The buildings he built, the workforce he hired, the policies he created – that will be his legacy. His influence will be felt for years to come in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Duncan won’t be leaving the area, he’ll still live in Culpeper with his wife Linda. His two daughters and his one granddaughter live here as well and the area is home. Now, it will just be “I’m going to work detox for a while,” Duncan said. “I want to step back and just evaluate what options are out there and want impact I can make.”